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Living wage bill moves ahead in Maryland

April 5, 2007, Washington Times, By Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press Writer

ANNAPOLIS Maryland is moving ahead with plans to become the first state in the nation to require a statewide living wage for state contractors.

The bill appeared doomed earlier in the term, but by Wednesday lawmakers and Gov. Martin OMalley appeared ready to move forward on the proposal. Also revived in the legislatures closing days was a move to get rid of the states current voting machines in favor of ones that leave a paper trail.

The last-minute shuffle on the living wage measure comes after OMalley met with top lawmakers to urge its passage. OMalley, a first-term Democrat, pressed the need for a living wage in January in his first address to lawmakers.

Now it appears theyre ready to listen. Although neither chamber has taken up the bill, and a deadline has passed for bills to pass one chamber, legislative maneuvering on nearly any measure is possible until the session ends Monday at midnight.

Were the guardians of the working family. Youve got to put your money where your mouth is, said Sen. Thomas Mac Middleton, D-Charles, who leads the committee considering the wage bill. Asked what changed on a bill that appeared all but dead, he cited a recent meeting with OMalley, the House speaker and the Senate president.

When you get all the lions, the giants, lined up, things can really move forward, he said.

That was clear a few moments later in a House committee that previously held the living wage bill. When it met Wednesday, OMalleys top legislative aide was on hand, talking with Delegate Derrick Davis, D-Prince Georges and chairman of the committee.

The governor wants some sort of living wage bill passed this year, said Joseph C. Bryce, OMalleys chief legislative officer.

In his opinion, its important that when the state contracts for a service, that it pays a wage people can feed their families on. You shouldnt be in a position where youre working full time for the state and youre still on food stamps, he said.

Asked about the bill, Davis grinned and said, Its very much alive.
However, its not certain what the living wage proposal would include. The original proposal called for state contractors to pay at least $11.95 an hour. Middleton told reporters that figure may be tweaked for employers who provide retirement benefits or for employers in rural areas.

Also back in play was the paper voting record legislation. The Senate shelved such a proposal just last week, and its sponsor told reporters it didnt have much chance. But senators moved ahead Wednesday on a separate, but similar, bill to require paper ballot records by the 2010 election.

It will definitely be out for a vote by Monday, said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, who leads the committee that heard the paper trail bill Wednesday. You have a vast majority of constituents very concerned about the paper trail.

An advocate for a paper voting record applauded the change. Johanna Neumann of Maryland PIRG said the paper trail bill would be a compromise because it takes effect only if OMalley sets aside money to pay for new voting machines. Estimates vary, but the cost could be as high as $30 million, a sticking point in earlier Senate debates.

Its a genuine compromise, Neumann said.

Living wage supporters were also cheered Wednesday by the apparent revival of that bill.

The best way to fight poverty is to reward work with family-sustaining wages, said Sean Dobson, director of Progressive Maryland.

However, the turnarounds Wednesday werent reason for celebration yet, Dobson said. He noted that the legislative landscape changes by the minute in the sessions closing days, so his advocates are still lobbying for the living wage.

You do that right up until the confetti falls Monday night, he said.

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